Starving Monkeys for Pointless Research

In an article that hit the Internet as if it meant anything, a bunch of starving monkeys seem to show that you don’t live longer on a calorie-restriced diet. But even a cursory read of the article, bleary eyed, tells me that this wasn’t a particularly good experiment and really a way to starve some monkeys and pretend something of worth was found.

Tell me if I’m reading this wrong:

Eating less cut rates of cancer and heart disease by half, for example. More than 50% of the animals were still alive, but the team detected a survival trend. Although overall mortality was the same, only 13% of the calorically restricted monkeys had died from age-related conditions, versus 37% of the control animals.

So you’re saying that the starving monkeys didn’t die of age-related illnesses, but died nonetheless? What did they die of – nothing?

They don’t answer that question, but they do go on to note a number of reasons why this might be:

One possible cause of the discrepancy, de Cabo says, is a difference in the animals’ diets. The Maryland monkeys noshed on more healthful food that included plenty of complex plant compounds, whereas the Wisconsin monkeys consumed processed food high in refined sugar. Control animals in Wisconsin also ate more than control animals in Maryland, which may even be slightly calorically restricted, de Cabo says. He notes that calorie restriction produces a bigger effect on longevity “if the control group is couch potatoes.”

Genetic variability between the groups could also be a factor. The Maryland group was more diverse, including Indian and Chinese animals, whereas the Wisconsin monkeys all came from India. Studies of other organisms have shown that genetic differences between individuals can affect the response to calorie restriction, notes molecular biologist Matt Kaeberlein of the University of Washington, Seattle, who wasn’t involved with the research.

Oh – you mean the control group is genetically different, their diets not only differed in quantity but quality, and from my quick read, one scientist discusses that the control group might be couch potatoes?

With that many variations, what will they ever prove – except that ‘more research is needed’?

Good news though: they have another 10 years of monkey-starving to go before these miserable animals finally pass – plenty of time for them to find funding for another monkey-starving experiment – and maybe this time they’ll have an actual control so that we might learn something.

Now maybe it’s the fault of the article itself – mashing up 2 different studies and confusing the hell of of readers and the author alike.

I gotta say though: good job all around, folks.

 

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Can The Soap You Use Make You Fat AND Cause a Heart Attack?

Maybe – if it’s antibacterial soap.

First, let me point out that ‘antibacterial’ soap is completely unnecessary. The FDA says so:

the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.

It’s a marketing ploy – a magic word on a label that is supposed to make you feel one particular soap is better than another. We’re scared of germs, and some sharp tack came up with ‘antibacterial’ soap to play to this fear.

And we fell for it.

Now it’s an antibacterial arms race of sorts. The chemical that gives soap – and a lot of other products – an antibacterial action is triclosan, which is a pesticide approved by the FDA in 1969 – betcha you won’t find that fact on the soap label.

There’s also the potential that the stuff can disrupt our endocrine systems – the system that regulates our hormones and can make us fat:

‘In animals studies triclosan lowers thyroid hormone levels

As well as a concern in the medical community that all this ‘antibacterial’ this and that is sort of a Crossfit workout for germs, making them stronger and more resistant as they evolve to resist these chemicals – causing more antibiotic-resistant germs to exist – which means that when you *do* actually get a bacterial infection that is life-threatening, it is becoming more likely that docs will have a hard time finding an antibiotic that can effectively treat it.

But let’s not quibble over these minor issues, right? We’re going for bigger fish here – new research that shows that triclosan actually weakens your muscles. If you’re not a jock and think this doesn’t concern you, remember: your heart is a muscle. While the entire article is worth a careful read, let me cherry-pick a single quote from a probably disreputable source – Smithsonian Magazine:

”The effects of triclosan on cardiac function were really dramatic,” said co-author Nipavan Chiamvimonvat. “Although triclosan is not regulated as a drug, this compound acts like a potent cardiac depressant in our models.” He speculates that in some cases, triclosan may be responsible for exacerbating heart problems in patients with an underlying condition.

Oopsies.

The good news is the FDA is ‘looking into the matter’ at present and might or might not do something about this ingredient appearing in adhesives, fabrics, vinyl, plastics (toys, toothbrushes), polyethylene, polyurethane, polypropylene, floor wax emulsions, textiles (footwear, clothing), caulking compounds, sealants, rubber, carpeting, and a wide variety of other products. They are going to ‘begin the process of reviewing in 2013‘.

Don’t you feel better?

Finishing up my little rant here, the Smithsonian piece ends with a quote from one of the researchers. It’s a classic of scientific understatement:

”Triclosan can be useful in some instances, however it has become a ubiquitous ‘value added’ marketing factor that actually could be more harmful than helpful,” said study co-author Bruce Hammock.

Ya think?!?

 

Fat People Lose Their Thinking Skills Faster Than Thin People

Lifted from Business Insider, who lifts stuff all the time:

Fatter people are more likely to lose their memories and brain power quicker than those who are thinner, according to British research.

Those who are obese, and have other health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, lose their memory and thinking skills almost a quarter faster, found researchers at University College London.

Their study was based on almost 6,500 Whitehall civil servants, whose health was monitored between the ages of 50 and 60.
They were weighed and measured, their blood pressure and cholesterol levels were taken, and they were also asked what medication they were taking.

In addition, they were asked to perform mental tests three times during the decade, which were used to assess memory and other cognitive skills.

Of the 6,401 civil servants in the study, nine per cent (582) were obese. Of those, 350 were also classed as “metabolically abnormal” – meaning they had two additional risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, were taking medication for either condition, or were diabetic.

The researchers found the obese tended to lose their mental powers faster than their thinner colleagues, while those who also had additional conditions lost their memory and thinking skills fastest of all.

The latter group experienced a 22.5 percent faster decline on their cognitive test scores over the decade than those who were healthy.

Archana Singh-Manoux, of the Paris research institute Inserm, who contributed to the study, said their results indicated the idea that people could be obese but still healthy was flawed.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We do not yet know why obesity and metabolic abnormality are linked to poorer brain performance, but with obesity levels on the rise, it will be important to delve a little deeper into this association.

“While the study itself focuses on cognitive decline, previous research suggests that a healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol in midlife can also help stave off dementia.

“With dementia figures spiralling towards a million, the findings suggest we should be conscious of our general health throughout life.”

Of course, it could have something to do with being a fat British civil servant – these’s types of observational studies are fraught with danger when you start extrapolating their conclusions to people outside the study.

Still interesting, though it doesn’t explain all the thin stupid people – fat people have *certainly* not cornered the market on stupidity, as can be evidenced by reading the news.

The Evil Plot to Persuade You that Calories Are All That Matter

If you are reading this, you’re not normal.

The fact that you would be interested in reading a post like this places you squarely out of that part of the bell curve where most people reside. To them, the title of this post might resonate as paranoid or foolish – or not resonate at all. ‘Somebody has way too much time on their hands’ they might say to themselves, as if I was questioning the length of an inch.

While I think someday I could write a book about calories – particularly ‘food calories’ as invented by Wilbur Olin Atwater – right now I wanted to put forth a relatively simple proposition: while there is much debate about whether calories matter, in the larger picture this debate is meaningless.

While people interested in nutrition debate if and how calories count, regular, ordinary people who do not spend their time on such things and decide to try to lose some weight count calories.

And regardless of the outcome of this debate, one aspect of calorie counting would probably not be denied by any side in the discussion: counting calories allows food manufacturers to sell food with no nutritive value.

In marketing, the art directors decide the size of the biggest fonts. The lawyers and regulators determine the size of the smallest font.

In the image above, look at the size of the ‘100 cal’ on the box. To take up that much real estate is a clear indication that the cookies in the box are not trying to make the sale because they are tasty, because the manufacturer is known for quality, and certainly not because the cookies are nutritious.

What moves these empty calories off the shelf is the boast of only 100 calories. Yes – there’s a nutrition label – on the side – and an ingredient label – both in the smallest type allowable by law. But if you’re over 40, better have your glasses with you – especially for that ingredient label.

Now – why, exactly, am I getting my shorts in a twist here about 100 measly calories? What’s the big deal?

Exactly.

This is exactly why food manufacturers love calories – they completely divorce what is actually in the food you put into your body from a measurement that a lot of people use – for better or worse – as a benchmark for what they should put into their body.

Yeah – they give you the complete nutrition info and ingredients – but only 60 percent of people actually read the nutrition labels and fewer understand them.

Even fewer must read the ingredients.

And if you buy into the notion of using calories to watch your food intake, about the worst thing you can do to yourself (unless you’re a numbers freak and love to calculate stuff) is to cook your own food from scratch.

Let’s say you want to deep fry your own chips, for example. You buy high temperature oil and pour it into the deep fryer. Slice the potatoes, and fry them up, lay them on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil, then eat a dozen. How many calories was that?

Well, you can find out that a medium potato is about 160 calories, and a teaspoon of canola oil is about 120 calories. But you deep-fried them in an entire bottle – how many tablespoons are in the chips?

I suppose if you’d like to find that out you can pour the remaining oil into a measuring cup, and if you knew how much you started with, you can subtract that number of ounces from what left and find out you used 4 fluid ounces.

But then how much got soaked into the paper towel? It’s not a trivial calculation as oil is very calorically dense and even a small amount is a lot of calories. Well, you can weigh the potato beforehand, then afterward, calculate the difference in weight, then calculate the weight of the oil by converting the fluid ounces – a volumetric measurement – into weight, then determining the total…

Or just say ‘screw it – let’s just buy some chips in a 100-calorie snack bag.’

So you see, marketing designed to encourage counting calories is carefully designed to drive you toward processed food. If you eat unprocessed food, you’re more likely to eat way better in terms of quality and without a load of preservatives and pesticides – but you won’t be able to count calories all that well.

So maybe no matter who wins the debate on whether calories count is missing the point entirely? Maybe we should stop counting calories because it leads to poor food choices?

The Odd Trick I Use to Manage Hunger

This is an odd trick – one that I am sure will NOT work for a number of people, because it isn’t something that is physiological, like drinking a glass of water before meals, nor psychological, like using smaller plates. Each of these types of tricks usually don’t work for the vast majority of people, but it’s handy to know they exist and try them out and see if they work for you.

I think having a bag of tricks that you’ve tested and found work for you is the cornerstone of any successful diet and long-term weight loss.

This trick is slightly different from the ones mentioned above, however – this one is spiritual.

I try to avoid politics and religion here – it’s just not the place for it. This little trick, however, does not require belief in any particular deity, nor require anything that should violate the principles of any religion I know of. I also find it helpful here and there when managing my own hunger from time to time, so I thought I would share it.

Here it is: when I am feeling hungry and miserable because of it, I try to intentionally bring the hunger into focus in my mind. Explore it deeply, knowing that I’m not too far away from a time where I can make it disappear with a meal lessens the fear and the pain.

And when I do this, I think about all the people who have ever lived – billions upon billions of people – living and dead – and every single one of them have experienced a hunger like mine. Some of these people – a large amount of them – experienced hunger for many years – and perhaps their whole lives. Many people right at this moment are experiencing intractable hunger because of an accident of birth – an accident I have so far been fortunate enough to avoid.

If I was transported to another place or another time where I could not be understood, any human being I met in this travel would be able to understand on a real and profound way my experience of hunger.

Hunger is universal, and connects all mankind in a bond of shared experience. Of all human experiences, hunger is one of the very few that is truly universal.

This little contemplation helps to put my own hunger into perspective. It doesn’t necessarily change the hunger, but it changes my response to it.

For a good many of you, this won’t be your cup of tea – that’s fine. There’s plenty of other diet ‘tricks’ out there and if you find just a couple that work for you, that might be all you need.

But if this sort of thing resonates with you, then I’ve done my good deed for the day.

13 Simple Rules To Lose Weight and Be Happy Doing It

There’s so much advice on weight loss – where to begin?!?

May I be so bold as to say begin here?

You want some simple rules that will peel off the weight? Based on real-world experience from a not-too-bright person who doesn’t really exercise, doesn’t have all that much willpower, and loses weight? A guy who has been at it for 9 years and has kept off 65 pounds most of that time? Here you go:

  1. Write down everything you eat. Practice keeping a journal. The definition of ‘practice’ is that you will fail a lot, but you keep at it and get better  – like playing the piano. Make your journal as simple or as detailed as you like. Experiment. Journaling raises awareness
  2. Ride the motivation wave. When motivation is high – go with the flow. When it isn’t – relax. It’s like sailing: when the wind doesn’t blow, wait patiently and enjoy the view.
  3. Don’t be in a rush.
  4. If you are unhappy on your diet, mix it up. People lose weight on low carb diets AND low-calorie diets. It’s not illegal to switch back and forth. I won’t tell
  5. Practice not snacking.
  6. Don’t drink your calories if you can help it. Make this a practice as well.
  7. Practice the reducing of processed foods in your diet as much as possible. Avoid as many chemicals and additives as you can
  8. Stay away from weight-loss supplements – they’re expensive, possibly dangerous, and will NOT lead to long-term, sustainable weight loss
  9. If you have a lot of weight to lose, consider going on a diet first, take off some weight, then exercise. Anyone who tells you that you can’t lose weight without exercising is simply wrong.
  10. Unplanned cheats should NEVER upset you. In the long-term, they don’t matter. Just get back on the horse tomorrow
  11. If you lose weight then plateau, think of it as a place to rest. To throttle back, to recuperate before the next leg of your journey
  12. Don’t do anything to yourself that smacks of emotional abuse or physical abuse. Your health and well-being can’t be measured by a number on a scale.
  13. Realize that weight loss might make you happier but it won’t make you happy. If you pin all your hopes on weight loss making you happy, you’re in for a letdown when you reach your target. Happiness is being at peace with yourself now – not in some future place. It doesn’t mean you don’t strive for things, or don’t work hard, or even fail occasionally. If you count your blessings and fight the good fight every day, you’re in a good place.

That’s it. Short and sweet. Start your practice now.

What Is the World’s ‘Best Diet’?

I just stumbled over Yoni Freedhoff the other day when I read his article in US  News. I’m going to be checking this guy out much closer. He’s a bariatric physician in Canada, and wrote this:

Your best diet is the one that keeps your calories reduced, your hunger at bay, your cravings controlled, and provides you with a regimen that isn’t merely one you can tolerate, but rather one you can honestly enjoy. The reason there are so many diet books and gurus out there is that there truly isn’t one right way to go.

So feel free to wade through the bookshelves, sample from the gurus, and poll your best friends. They may offer up some really wonderful suggestions and strategies. But ultimately, never let yourself get cornered into a dietary pigeonhole. If one approach isn’t working for you, try to identify what it is you’d need to tweak in order to like it. And when it comes to those real-life moments where what you want doesn’t fit with your chosen approach, try to remember that perhaps it’s that very inflexibility that’s led you to give up altogether in the past.

Live the healthiest life that you can enjoy, not the healthiest life that you can tolerate.

like that – a doc who understands happiness must be part of any weight loss plan.

Read the whole article – it’s worth your time.

I’m going to be reading his blog Weighty Matters very closely in the next few weeks, to be sure.